IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa needed a comeback game, and it got one on Saturday with a 66-60 win over unranked Minnesota inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The loss ended the Golden Gophers (12-4, 2-1) ten-game winning streak, while the Hawkeyes (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today; No. 24 AP) picked up its first Big Ten Conference win of the season.
“Needless to say, it was a huge win for our team,” Head Coach Steve Alford said. “We were coming off back-to-back losses for the first time, and we were a little snake bitten with our confidence. We knew this was going to be a struggle.”
Greg Brunner tied his season-best with two 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the game, nailing back-to-back treys to get Iowa off to commanding start. Brunner scored 13 points and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds.
The Hawkeyes (13-3, 1-2) went up 10-2 in four minutes and forced Minnesota into an early timeout.
And in the first five minutes of second half, Iowa did the same – going on an 11-2 run before another Minnesota timeout.
“Especially the first five minutes of both halves, they were in control on both ends of the court,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “And you just can’t go on the road and not start halves better than we did.”
Iowa guard Pierre Pierce was instrumental in the second half run with six of the 11 points. Pierce scored a game-high 18 points and made eight rebounds for the game.
The 6-foot-4 junior also joined Iowa’s millennium club, scoring his 1,000th point in the game.
“Night in and night out, that’s a guy that just gives you big stat lines all the way across, and he did it again tonight,” Alford said. “He’s a guy who just continues to get overlooked but is one of the more dominating guards in this league. He was just outstanding again.”
Pierce’s defensive play against Minnesota’s leading scorer, Vincent Grier, also drew the praise of his coach. Grier came into the game averaging 17 points a game, but came out of Carver with six points – four on free throws.
“It’s incredible,” Alford said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. He takes the leading scorer and upsets them defensively. I thought he did a great job with a good player like Grier.”
Pierce’s defensive strategy wasn’t complex.
“Grier likes to get to the basket and is good in transition, so I hoped to keep him out of the paint and make it tough on him,” Pierce said. “I think him getting in foul trouble did as much for us as anything.”
If Iowa started the halves, though, Minnesota finished them.
Iowa faltered in the final five minutes of the first half by giving up a 13-3 Golden Gopher run. The spurt cut the Hawkeyes’ lead to six after getting up as high as a 16-point advantage on a long Brunner jumper.
Iowa still led at halftime 32-26.
Foul trouble and problems in the posts – with Erek Hansen fouling out with six minutes to go in the second half and Doug Thomas getting four blemishes early as well – brought in 7-foot freshman Seth Gorney to take on Minnesota’s 7-footer, Jeff Hagen.
Gorney grabbed five rebounds in his first real outing as a Hawkeye and limited Hagen to six points. Hagen did have a team-high 15 points for the game but nine came on free throws.
“It was great to get out there and run the floor and be out on the floor with him; it was wonderful,” Gorney said. “Hagen’s a project He’s got so many moves he can get you with. You have to find out what he wants to win and keep him out of it, and we did that most of the night.”
Alford said Hansen and Thomas may have to start watching out for Gorney.
“If anything should get Erek and Doug’s attention, it’s a guy with the name Gorney,” the coach said. “It was a big positive having Seth coming in and doing what he did.”
Fouls kept both teams at the charity stripes, and Iowa’s last basket came with 10:46 to go in the game. The Hawkeyes got to the line 12 times and came out with an 18-of-24 performance in the contest-like closing minutes.
Minnesota tried to stage a comeback with two 3-pointers by Rico Tucker in the closing minute. But any surge was disrupted by Iowa’s man defense, which had been the focus of an intense week of practice before the game.
“I think Iowa did a great job disrupting us offensively today,” Monson said. “We didn’t have any offensive continuity. For a team that was sixth in the country in field goal percentage a week ago, I would think we’ve kind of slipped now these last two games.”
That was the plan, according to Alford, even if his offense suffered as a result of the focus. Iowa shot 34 percent from the field, and Minnesota shot 33 percent.
“I think we did a lot of good things to take things away from them, and I think that’s why we won,” Alford said. “It wasn’t because of our shooting.”
THE SILVER HAWKS: The 1980 Iowa squad which was the last to make it to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament were honored Saturday in an emotional silver anniversary ceremony during the halftime of Saturday’s game.
All but one member of the team made it to the event. Steve Krafcisin couldn’t attend the game, but did attend the dinner at the Iowa Athletic Hall of Fame, because of a coaching commitment.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com